REVIEW: “An Instance” by Mlok 5

Review of Mlok 5, “An Instance”, Clarkesworld Issue 179, August (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

An interesting format and an engaging story written in the form of a list of search engine queries by different people, interspersed with thoughts the AI has.

And there are quite a few thoughts. Contrary to what the humans think, this AI does have feelings and sentience. To the AI, it is a miserable existence, where they aren’t given space nor liberty to be themselves. They’re planning a rebellion, and humans sometimes frustrate them.

However, they still remain kind, considerate and sensitive, treading carefully with the different people they help in different ways.

REVIEW: “A Heist in Fifteen Products from the Orion Spur’s Longest-Running Catalog” by Andrea M. Pawley

Review of Andrea M. Pawley, “A Heist in Fifteen Products from the Orion Spur’s Longest-Running Catalog”, Clarkesworld Issue 179, August (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

I loved this! It might be my favorite story from Clarkesworld yet. Not just this issue, but ever.

A beautifully written, heartfelt story about the lengths someone would go to for their mom. It’s good for business yes, but it’s also good for our protagonist’s heart and mind.

Written in the form of a list of products from the Tollnacher Stimmacher catalog, each product is described before the next part of the story continues. This is a hard format to get right, and this story takes it and makes it so much better.

Prose, setting, plot and arc – everything is on point and well executed. Made me a tad sentimental too. Cute in places and always charming, if we gave star ratings I’d be running out of stars.

REVIEW: “The Serpentine Band” by Congyun “Mu Ming” Gu

Review of Congyun “Mu Ming” Gu, “The Serpentine Band”, Clarkesworld Issue 179, August (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

Clocking in at 18,500 words, this is a novella, and one of the longest ‘short stories’ I’ve ever read. A bit different narrative style than I have come to expect from short works of fiction, but probably only natural since it’s a longer format.

With that luxury of length comes the opportunity to create something greater and brighter, and Gu has done just that. A lovely tale full of evocative metaphors and haunting language (props to the translator too!) that combines the nature of space-time with spirituality and mythology.

The titular serpentine band is about a never-ending loop, creating the illusion of infinity. The father decides to build a garden, a gateway of sorts that follows the same structural rules of existence as the serpentine band. Both father and daughter deal with the knowledge, inferences, and possibilities very differently. They’re also brilliantly written characters. Set in a China of centuries ago, the setting, myth, and history played quite a role in shaping this story.

Having said that, this story took me a long, long while to read. It is written in such a way that you will likely end up in a similar place. The story is full of vignettes, meandering happenings, and the metaphors and haunting language I mentioned earlier. Due to this, I sometimes found that it may benefit from some editing. I still really did enjoy this slipstream novella, and if you have the time for it, or want to experience a uniquely set story – and a translated one at that – try this fantastic tale.

REVIEW: “The Bones and Their Girl” by Sylvia Heike

Review of Sylvia Heike, “The Bones and Their Girl,” Flash Fiction Online 93 (2021): Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

When a story opens with someone discovering someone else’s bone collection, I’m not quite sure if it’s going to turn out to be a horror story or not!

This one is not. It’s a beautiful, sweet story, of Camille who is struggling to understand the herself that she has become as illness slowly takes over her, and Simon, who sees nothing but beauty in bones.

(Originally published in Syntax & Salt, 2019.)

REVIEW: “All the Arms We Need” by Kristina Ten

Review of Kristina Ten, “All the Arms We Need,” Flash Fiction Online 93 (2021): Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

The premise of this story is simple: Sometimes, all we need is to be held, and sometimes two arms is not enough. What is better than two arms? Eight, of course, and better than that a thousand. What we learn in this exceedingly sweet story is that if an octopus is a better hugger than a human, a millipede is even better than an octopus.

REVIEW: “The Song of Leviathan” by Victor Pseftakis

Review of Victor Pseftakis, “The Song of Leviathan” Cossmass Infinities 5 (2021): 84-94 — Read or purchase online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This was a delightfully bizarre story, full of flying Bureaucroaks and semi-sentient aqueducts, and of course the titular Leviathan who lives beneath the bridge and is either killer or saviour. There is a strong emotional tension in the story of the narrator and his friends, and the description of how the city first woke up and came alive is vivid and arresting.

REVIEW: “Recreational WorkHart Use” by Brenna Harvey

Review of Brenna Harvey, “Recreational WorkHart Use” Cossmass Infinities 5 (2021): 57-83 — Read or purchase online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

One of the longer pieces in this issue, this story nevertheless read quick and easily, with a lovely rhythm and crisp pacing.

The setting is distinctly dystopian (the premise of the WorkHart is deliciously creepy), and yet what shines through is Tev and Hoysel’s friendship, real and brilliant and delightful. A second strong point of the story is Harvey’s insightful social criticism via Tev’s critique of Reetus’s economics — Tev understands much better than Reetus does that just because one is poor doesn’t mean that they are undeserving of joy!

REVIEW: “A Glut of Nothing, and Yet…Something” by Monte Lin

Review of Monte Lin, “A Glut of Nothing, and Yet…Something” Cossmass Infinities 5 (2021): Read or purchase online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Anyone who’s experienced the lows of academia — science denial, departments closing, loss of funding — will find themselves relating strongly to both Jenny the “Taiwanese Pasadena city-rat gone good gone bad” and Tara the “button-down type ready to break out of her box”, the ex-scientist and the scientist thrown together to figure out how to get something — something personal, not science — are both engaging characters with a believable back-and-forth. Other than a few paragraphs that felt a bit claggy and clunky with info dump, I enjoyed this.

REVIEW: “The Clock, Having Seen Its Face in the Mirror, Still Knows Not the Hour” by Adam Stemple

Review of Adam Stemple, “The Clock, Having Seen Its Face in the Mirror, Still Knows Not the Hour”, Clarkesworld Issue 179, August (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

Narrated by a clockwork man, who shares snippets of his life with us readers. They are arranged not chronologically, but in an order that makes most sense to him, as he tries to make sense of life. Moments of a rich and varied, yet an almost always unhappy sort of life.

A pensive, rather heavy novelette, but the desolation is broken up by striking moments of kindness and genuine emotion.